DUSK Episode 1 & Episode 2 Review

Check out our video review:

It seems that many first-person shooters are trying to capture the gameplay of classic nineties shooters. Games like Amid Evil, Ion Maiden, and Dusk are all on the horizon and they’re all attempting to pay homage to the classics like Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, and the like. But even current and older releases like the Rise of the Triad reboot, Shadow Warrior reboot, and Strafe are good examples of titles aiming for retro gameplay. Even Doom 2016 followed this trend and the end result was an awesome action-packed experience. I actually grew up in the nineties so I do find this resurgence kind of humorous but also refreshing. After a while, I get tired of running from cut scene to cut scene. I get tired of frequent scripted events. I get tired of the linear level design. And I get tired of games constantly holding my hand. One could argue these types of games are designed to reach a wider audience. But at what cost? Developed by David Szymanski and published New Blood Interactive, Dusk is a first-person shooter currently being developed for PC. Anybody who pre-ordered the game was granted immediate access to Episode 1 and then it entered early access in January, 2018, granting players access to Episode 1 and 2.

Dusk plays out in episodes with multiple levels per episode. The first episode takes place in the rural town of Dusk, Pennsylvania. The story isn’t really shoved in your face and I did look up a plot summary to get a backstory as to what’s going on. Apparently a network of ruins containing some form of magic is discovered underneath a section of farmland so the government gets involved and sets up research labs and factories to study the magic. Sooner or later the military personnel and scientists all become possessed and the town is sealed off from the outside world. You play as a treasure hunter who was apprehended and propped on a meathook after entering the town to search for riches. The only notable voice acting heard is the demonic voice that speaks every now and then. The plot is not really the focus here and the game’s theme and atmosphere is somewhat unique but also reminds me of the original Quake with the whole creepy Lovecraftian stuff going on.

When you first fire up the game it would be wise to go through the menu and configure the settings to your liking. The amount of things you can adjust is actually quite impressive. You can configure the basics like the resolution and audio options but you can also change the colors, amount of saturation, brightness, contrast, toggle on and off different visual effects like filters, bloom lighting, even set the amount of pixelization. Seeing this, I was already impressed and after setting everything up I was ready to jump into the actual gameplay. There’s five difficulty modes to choose from and you have the option to enable Intruder Mode which means you’ll start every level with only your sickles. All completed levels can be replayed from the level select menu and what’s really cool about the level select is that you can even set up your loadout and how much ammo you want for each weapon. Episode 1 is titled The Foothills and most of it is set in the countryside consisting of farms, fields, sawmills, and houses. Episode 2, titled The Facilities, is set in the industrial zone. Episode 3 is titled The Nameless City and is not yet available. Being a retro first-person shooter, you can do all the basics like walk, run, crouch, and jump. You can slide if you crouch while running, zoom with any weapon, and toggle on and off your flashlight at will. Although, there’s a couple of levels where break your flashlight breaks and have to find another. Your character is equipped with a cigar which can be used to slowly regenerate your health. And by slowly I mean one puff adds only one point of health. Since I’m no stranger to the gameplay of classic shooters like Doom and Quake, I felt right at home with the controls and movement here from the moment I started playing.

There’s a good variety of weapons in Dusk and they all feel pretty great. You start with sickles which are your melee weapons but they can also reflect projectiles back at enemies if you time your swings right. Eventually you’ll acquire a pistol and shotgun and both can be dual wielded which is really cool. What would a retro shooter be without a double-barrel shotgun? That’s exactly what the super shotgun is and consumes two shells with every shot. My favorite weapon is the assault rifle just because I love the way it feels. The hunting rifle is a powerful long-range weapon. You’ll also acquire a crossbow which can fire bolts that will pass through enemies, even walls. The mortar weapon is basically a grenade launcher and you can manually detonate the grenades after firing or wait five seconds for them to explode on their own. The riveter is a rocket launcher and is one of the most powerful weapons in the game, great for blowing away a numerous enemies at once. Finally, you can acquire a sword which is a melee weapon but if you have full health you can charge up an attack which will deals massive damage. What I love about the arsenal here is that all of the weapons serve a purpose and none of them feel useless. The pistol is a great weapon to fall back on if you’re low on ammo for everything else and different weapons are better for specific enemies and scenarios.

Dusk is a very fast-paced game and movement is key. You’ll be running, jumping, and strafing all over the environment but more importantly, you’ll need to move fast to dodge enemy attacks. There’s quite a few enemies to contend with including Leathernecks which carry chainsaws, Mages which, in my opinion, look like high-ranking Klan members that hover and fire slow moving fireballs, Black Phillips which are these possessed goats that spit blood, possessed scientists that come charging at you, even Possessed Scarecrows carrying shotguns. You’ll also have to deal with Rats which usually appear in numbers. They’re small and very annoying. Fork Maidens are one of the tougher enemy types in episode 1 and it’s best to keep your distance so you can dodge their projectiles. Episode 2 introduces Welders which are these big fat fuckers that fire red projectiles and these guys explode upon getting killed. Wendigo is probably one of the deadlier enemies in the game. It’s a deer-like creature that’s invisible until you shoot it. To spot it, you need to listen for its distinct breathing which is creepy as hell. You can also see the bloody footprints it leaves behind as it charges towards you. You’ll also run into a few turrets. You will encounter several bosses across both episodes and they all require the same strategy to defeat. Dodge their shit and shoot them until they die. There’s one boss in Episode 2 referred to as “Mama” and is seen in subsequent levels as the enemy known as Cowgirl. She can fire a barrage of deadly explosives and also take a serious beating before going down. My favorite boss has to be Big John and he’s basically a nod to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Episode 1 starts out easy enough and the first two levels let you get used to the movement and controls but the game does become more challenging as you progress. Many times you’ll be outnumbered, enemies will often have the high ground, and every now then you’ll be ambushed and need to rely on your arsenal and movement skills to survive. Dusk is no cakewalk on the mid-to-high difficulty modes but you can quicksave at anytime during gameplay.

The levels in Dusk range from small to fairly large and they are exceptionally well crafted.  There’s one level in Episode 2 that’s trippy as fuck. You’ll traverse through a lot of wide open areas giving you plenty of room to maneuver, there’s pads that will launch you high into the sky, even teleporters that will teleport you to different areas. You’ll want to explore the levels for the numerous secret areas which usually reward you with health, ammo, and even weapons. There are a couple of power-ups which are activated upon pickup and remain active for a limited time. The fast fire totem increases your firing speed for all weapons and the climbing thing (yes, that’s what it’s actually called in-game) allows you to climb along walls. If you acquire the Thermal Suit, you can walk in lava without taking damage. Then there’s the Serum of Blistering Heat, this one is interesting. Time only moves when you do. Scattered throughout the environments is ammo, medical kits, and magic potions which grant you a small amount of health. You can also find and collect treasure like gems, coins, and diamonds which will increase your armor or what this game calls morale. Every now then you’ll come across chests that can be looted and will contain different resources. Like any good nineties shooter, Dusk does contain key hunting. You’ll need to find keys throughout the levels which are used to open different doors, granting you access to new areas. While Dusk may look and feel like Doom or Quake, it’s also a reflection of many Build engine games, mainly because of the level of interactivity. You can pick up and throw objects, flip switches, even activate things. You can also utilize things in the environment to your advantage like barrels that explode when shot causing damage to nearby enemies. You will have to watch out for environmental hazards like pools of toxic liquid, poisonous gas clouds, fire, crushers, even spinning blades.

In addition the campaign is the Endless mode which is basically a survival mode. The goal is to survive wave after wave of enemies. Each kill rewards you with points and you’ll want to survive as long as you can and rack up a ton of points for a high score. When selecting the Endless mode, you first must choose the map of which there three but only two available. I believe they correspond with the episodes so I assume the third one will be unlocked when Episode 3 is available. The mode is fun but I really do hope the developer plans to add even more maps in the future. Dusk also comes with DUSKWORLD which is the multiplayer component. And, yes, I actually attempted to play a match but all of the servers were empty at the time.

Dusk not only aims for retro gameplay but its visual presentation also reflects the classic shooters we all know and love. If you’ve been looking for a shooter with an aesthetic similar to that of the original Quake, I think Dusk is it. It may not be exactly the same but it’s definitely in the same vein. It’s creepy, strange, dark, and eerie all at the same time. It’s dark and creepy atmosphere manages to create a great sense of tension. Little details like writing on the walls, blood splatter, and corpses littered around also add to the creepiness of it all. I don’t care what anyone says, I still say the original Quake hasn’t aged well in terms of raw graphics, like many early 3D games, but the reason its timeless and carries on is because of its gameplay, atmosphere, and unique aesthetic. And that’s kind of how I feel about Dusk. It’s got great style and substance but it’s not really a looker and that’s intentional. But I understand what the developer is going for. Dusk is going for that early 3D look, to look like a game released in the nineties and he nailed it. The animations are stiff, character models are blocky, and you can even ramp up the pixelization effect for an even more authentic retro-looking experience. I do enjoy the particle effects and watching enemies explode into a shower of blood and gibs is just as satisfying now as it was back in the day. Now the audio work compliments the gameplay and atmosphere nicely. Enemies will make creepy noises, all of the weapons sound satisfying, and I think the explosions could benefit from a volume increase. You’ll hear heavy breathing in the background, and the music ramps up when the action gets intense. The music, like the visuals, is also a reflection of Quake. I’m really not a fan of industrial rock or metal which is what many of the heavier tracks sound like here but if you’re going for that Quake feel then the soundtrack is definitely on point. The ambient tunes really do fit the whole mood of the game, instilling a sense of terror as you navigate the creepy environments. I guess Lovecraftian horror and industrial rock will forever go together and you can thank Quake and Nine Inch Nails for that. If you enjoy industrial rock or metal, you’ll probably get a kick out of the soundtrack here. On the performance side, the game runs great overall. The frame rate dipped once or twice when things got hectic but I experienced no bugs, glitches, or anything game breaking. For what it’s worth, I was limiting the frame rate to sixty for recording purposes.

Ultimately, I had a lot of fun with what’s on offer here and I am looking forward to episode 3. The gameplay in Dusk is fast-paced, action-packed, and it just feels great to play. Most importantly, it’s fun from beginning to end. It also contains plenty of replay value. There’s a multitude of secrets to find, multiple difficulty modes, the Endless mode, and the DUSKWORLD multiplayer, all of which should keep players glued to their screens for years to come. I obviously wouldn’t object to more levels which is to be expected with the release of episode 3. Hopefully what comes with that is new enemies and maybe even a new weapon or two. What’s already here is fantastic and I would say it’s worth the current twenty dollar asking price. I wouldn’t object to more game modes or maybe even gameplay modifiers to increase replay value. I would also love to see the game be opened up for modding which I believe is the sole reason games like Doom, Quake, and even Duke Nukem 3D are still alive and kicking ass today.

I guess many people feel the first-person shooter genre is currently stagnant. I assume some of these developers think that if you can’t come up with new ideas, then let’s just regress back to the good old days, hence the rise of all these retro shooters. If Dusk is a result of that line of thinking, then I don’t see a problem. Hell, before this retro resurgence, even I would revert to playing the classics because many of the modern shooters, minus a few exceptions, failed to hold my interest for long. Sure, Dusk doesn’t revolutionize the genre but it does represent a different time. A time when the genre was in its infancy. Dusk is a perfect example of how the simplest things can be the most enjoyable. Dusk doesn’t try to get your attention with shiny new visuals, complex mechanics, cool-looking set pieces, or attempts at deep storytelling. It tries to get your attention with its fast and rewarding gameplay and I would definitely recommend it to fans of first-person shooters. It may not be a finished game yet but you’re already getting plenty of bang for your buck. I can’t wait for the full release.

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